Teaching as Mentoring

 

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Last week I blogged about Lessons Learned, when a class does not go well. This post picks up where I left off, but focuses on my best teaching experience to date. I love teaching. I view it as a form of mentoring and learning that works both ways. I learn from my students, and I have ample opportunity to work with them as they read and engage with the course materials, their peers, and me. Mentoring is important to me and this class offered lots of mentoring moments.

Last Fall I taught a new course for the Technology and Society Program, Digital Skills for Your Career and the course was amazing. I need to clarify, I co-taught with an awesome person and she helped make it successful. The students were also open to the material and learning. We also had colleagues from Career and Co-op  lecture about planning for your career trajectory, resume tips, and LinkedIn tips. The thing is that we had lots of exercises and group work for the class.

The students started off with putting together an About.me page, where they could think about who they are and what they’d like to share. The course was also meant to have them think about being in control over their digital footprints. They also had to populate a LinkedIn profile well, blog, and then give a presentation about themselves and something that they’re interested in as their final project. There was also group work during class sessions.

We had a wide array of guest speakers from government, media, technology, non-profit, entrepreneurs, and other educators. Everything fit in well and our office hours were quite busy with the students. The student feedback unofficially and officially (student evaluations) was extremely positive. What worked well is that we allowed them to be vulnerable. We talked about vulnerability and we saw that thinking and planning was frightening, and they needed a space to do this. We graded them on their writing, depth of analysis, and public speaking. Overall, the course was awesome. Several of the students shared that they were recruited via their LinkedIn profile, and others used the class to think about what was next for them.

I am teaching the course again, and by myself this time. We are going to read Tom Rath’s Strength Finders and Sheryl Sandberg’s Leaning in For Graduates. I also have lots of articles about using social or digital tools wisely. Overall, I am looking forward to the class, and I hope that this next cohort of students are as excited as I am.

Introspective Exercises

I am co-teaching a new course, Digital Skills for Your Career. Last night my slide deck consisted of a letter  in bullet point form to my 20 year old self. I shared with my students some regrets and points of reflection. It was blunt and at times humorous. My point was to help them with their exercises. Co-op and Career had provided them a venn diagram to fill out and for some of the students the exercise was a tough one. They needed to think about their skills, wants, and competencies. The exercise is all about introspection and self-promotion. It is not as easy as it sounds. 

And, their first assignment was due this week. We had asked them to curate a fulsome About.Me page, and in two weeks their LinkedIn URL is due. They worked away in pods chatting with one another about what is holding them back, and how to overcome self-doubt. 

Mentoring university students has taught me numerous things. One consistent issue is the uncertainty and the way it can stifle creativity, bravery, and happiness. My exercise in self-deprecation and honesty was to remind them that they are going to make mistakes and it is OK. We are three weeks into this course and I hope that they are enjoying it as much as I am. 

My photo of one of Co-op’s Slides. Thanks! 

Revisiting Course Experience Evaluations

During the term faculty are required to distribute university approved evaluation forms for students to fill out and these instruments field a wide array of responses. The campus where I work is moving to online evaluations and the reaction is mixed. Regarding student evaluation I have heard lots and have blogged about the evaluation process, but these are the most common responses that I have heard recently.

They are not qualified to judge me

It’s a popularity contest more than anything else

I don’t read them

They’re useful

I read them

I bury them

I learn from them

I don’t like them

The comments will turn into a RMPish experiment

I do not want to engage in the online versus paper evaluations for this post. Much of academic life is filled with judgment. We get assessed by our peers, by our department, reviewers of scholarly presses, others up the academic food chain, and by the government and public if you are at a public institution. Frankly, everyone is always weighing in about higher education.

We judge and assess student work, yet somehow we are uncomfortable with this singular act of student assessment of our course or courses. Why? Well, that is cause for a long post. Let me speak to how I have changed my feelings about them. I think that the official university evaluations are a mixed-bag. They provide feedback. Some of the feedback is useful and other feedback is interesting and at times not helpful. I am sure we have all had this experience with a peer review:
Reviewer 1 provides good feedback and you know that they read your chapter or article. Reviewer 2 has skimmed it and refers to some work that you cited, but the reviewer did not bother to notice this. Reviewer 3 did not read your work and really dislikes the topic and offers nothing that is useful beyond you wishing evil upon this person. . Reviewer 4 refers to his or her work and how this article offers nothing new, but there are a few helpful comments.

Student evaluations can work like this, too. However, the rub is that our departments use these evaluations to measure teaching effectiveness or prowess and at times the numbers and comments do not paint an accurate picture or maybe they do?! Perhaps your students really like you and like your courses and the evaluations offer this assessment. But, maybe your students dislike you or the material and the evaluations convey this. And, that is the problem. We need to assess the larger picture and the evaluations offer one part. This is why peer evaluation is also important. But, do not stop there. If your campus has a learning and teaching center, visit it. Take some workshops and avail yourself of the various opportunities and make sure that you add these workshops to your vitae in the appropriate area.

Teaching requires work and preparation and we have a tough audience. Our students are bombarded with distractions and if they are not interested in the topic I feel like I have to catch them. But, alas, no matter what I do, I will not catch all of them.

What does this mean for student evaluations, then? They are necessary. But, faculty can respond by reviewing them and reflecting. Do you need to mix things up? Is it time to have a trusted colleague do a peer review of your syllabus and lecture? Departments also have to invest in faculty and offer opportunities for professional development and insist that faculty work on their teaching dossier. I am biased here as teaching track faculty, but am resolute in my opinion that teaching takes work. I include a photo of Stress Paul, a rubber stress ball.

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Career Advice: Redux

This is an old post that I have tweaked (not twerked) for the start of a new academic year.

You’re in your last year of university and getting nervous as the school year starts, hits the half way point or is ending. But, for the sake of ease, let’s pretend it’s the start of your last year of university. I’m going to make some suggestions for you. And, these are my opinions alone and not endorsed by my employer. This advice comes from my university experience, 16 years of teaching, and years of advising unofficially and officially.
1. Get yourself to the Career Center or the Career offices. Your campus should have an office with extremely competent staff who are there to help you. But, understand that they aren’t there to help you get a job, rather they are there to give you the skills so that you get yourself that job. They will empower you, but it’s all about your own skills and your own file. Have a Career Counselor review your CV or resume.

2. Speak with your departments Undergraduate Advisor. Believe it or not, s/he might have some good advice to give you. The advisor might know of additional job boards in your area of interest.

3. Speak to trusted peers who are in your situation or who have recently graduated. Your peers are a useful resource, too. Ask them if they can introduce you to anyone else–that is you need to network.

4. Confer with other faculty or mentors that you have in the campus community or community at large. Now is not the time to feel shy. You have to reach out and make some effort.

5. If it works for your field (and which fields does it not work for?) get on social media. Yes, join Linked in and establish your profile there and meet others on the platform. Ask people questions—especially those in the industry that you’re interested in.

6. Are you blogging or on Twitter? Will these platforms be useful for you? If so, then do it. But, always be very careful with your digital footprint. Google yourself and see what is out there. That photo of you in residence engaging in naked beer sliding—might need to be deleted! OK, you really don’t have compromising photos, but do take a look and see what photos and status updates you’ve had so that you won’t have a future employer “creep” and find something that they don’t like.

Particular to Victoria, I suggest to students that they not only look at the local job boards (BC Public Service, municipality job boards, and UVIC’s U-Hire, but also VIATEC’s. You never know what you might find in many of these. I also explain to students that they most likely won’t get hired right out of their undergrad as a senior policy analyst. The truth is that you’re going to have to work your way up and this might mean that you’re working in a position that requires data entry, filing, and “gofer” work. You have to cut your teeth in a job and be prepared for this.

If you’re interested in working in Victoria, I suggest that you keep abreast of when there are Chamber of Commerce events (Victoria or Westshore) and attend some of the events to network and meet local members. Note that members of this organization aren’t only local business owners, but government types, elected officials, and just regular people who are interested in the community. Also, attend other local events and get to know the community. This might mean registering with Meet Up and looking for events that will allow you to meet other like minded people. The thought of doing this might make you feel uncomfortable, but you need to get out and meet more people and realize that the limited discomfort can pay off with a mentor, community building, contacts, and possibly a job connection.

I have seen students take 4-8 months to find work after they graduate and this is pretty common. The students who are willing to take risks or start at the entry level position are the ones who have been the most successful. What are you doing to do?

Looking for Work: There is a Book for That

I stumbled upon a shelf or two at the bookstore filled with career advice books for undergrads and other job seekers. I was quite curious and leafed through some. And, I took photos of a few of them. I’m sure that many of these books dispense good advice for job seekers, and given my penchant to read as much as I can I think it’s good to do your homework. But, there is a part of me that also hopes that students go to the Career Center or whatever name it’s called on campus. Here are some screen shots of some of the books that I leafed through the other day.

I didn’t see anything Earth shattering in the above book–but it does have a snazzy title and will definitely cause some to buy it hoping that the right equation is there for them. I’m not dismissing the book or endorsing it. But, it does catch the eye! I wonder how many copies of this book have sold? You, too can use Social Media to help you get a job. Yes, you can, but just being on social media is not enough. Big smile. Mind your digital footprint. It’s always good to occasionally Google yourself and see what is out there. Clean up your presence if you must. There are reputation management companies to assist you with this, too! Hopefully, most won’t need to resort to the consultant to clean up the digital footprint!

I’ve read the Parachute book and back in the day found it helpful. No wonder it’s been repeatedly published. Many people have no clue what they want to do and books like it are useful to get you thinking about the possibilities and the reality of your own skills and interests. And, nothing beats talking with a career educator, mentor, coach or trusted person in your life. Which brings me to my next thought–I really hope that students scouring the shelves in the university bookstore look to their network as a rich resource, too. Start off with your friends, family, profs, employers, and the career center! Set up coffee meetings and ask that contact to introduce you to a person or two so that you can increase your networks.

Another screen shot of a book and its secrets!

44 Secrets! Now, some of them make me think of Captain Obvious, but I’ve been working since I was 16. I do think that the book has lots of great hints/information for the job seeker. It looks helpful in a cheeky sort of way. I should have taken more photos of the table of contents, as this book really made me laugh out loud.

I liked the section about: You’re Hired, Now What? This is also an important part of the job seeking process. What to do when you get hired. Some of the best advice that I’ve heard about once you’ve been hired is that you act and dress for the job you want. I’ve had other great advice, too. You know–keep your head down and work hard, avoid landmines, make good allies, and don’t piss off the more senior people. This is a quick list of some of the advice and certainly not exhaustive.

I have lots of former students on the job hunt right now and I wish each and every one of them good luck. If any of these books look promising, stop by a bookstore and leaf through it before you buy it. And, remember that we have a great Career Center on campus! Have one of the career educators review your resume and a sample cover letter. The staff or mentors on campus are here to help and you want to represent yourself in the best way that you can. Good luck!

Before a New Term Starts

I realize that many of my colleagues in the United States are still teaching. It’s the Spring term for them and they are slogging through those last few weeks or months in some cases. But for me, it’s the last harried week before my Summer term begins. So, it’s that time of year when many of my college students are thinking about the next year’s classes. This is a slow teaching time for most regular faculty (note this doesn’t include the sessional instructors, who usually have to teach full-time in order to stay afloat). One of the things that we forget though, is that this time of year is very busy for advisors and others who help students figure out courses and other important matter that is important to student success.

This quick note is a reminder for patience. In the last week, I’ve had many emails about books and course outlines/syllabi. Students want to know–where are the books? Bookstore. Where is the course outline. In my head, it’s in draft stage and gets distributed on the first day of class and possibly early on Moodle.

Patience for the frantic student who needs a little reassurance about classes. For instance, I am finding that I am fielding more emails where a student really wants advice. “Which classes should I take?” A few have actually said, I want to know your recommendations. This is a big responsibility for me. Typically the student who asks, has already taken a course with me. So, I need to think about his/her interests and weigh my knowledge of the department’s courses. At first I would suggest all our courses, but now I am more careful. This is not based on content, but rather thinking more strategically about the student and her/his interests and possible grad school interests. Students asking for more help with planning their academic career is more common today in my experience.

One common response from students is that they have heard that a colleague is a GPA buster. I always smile at this and explain that if the student wants to focus on Area A, for instance, in grad school that she absolutely needs to have a class with said colleague. The majority of the students come back to my office the next term and thank me for my suggestion. I’m sure that there are some who have opted to not come and complain to me, too! I would have never asked an instructor for advice about which course or professor to take, but from talking to other undergraduate advisors these sort of queries are more apt to take place today. I think that when I am queried–it is acceptable for me to make course suggestions to students. I am one of three undergraduate advisors in the department.

The other thing that happens lots is students want to check in and see where they stand with their programs. I get more queries that essentially are asking, “Am I on the right track” during these Summer term months. Many students have caught their breath after a busy year and are now assessing what they’ve done. I look forward to these conversations, as most students are pleasantly surprised with the progress made. I certainly do wish that more students would check in annually with either Academic Advising or the department advising team to verify where they are in the undergraduate program.

Advising: #AcAdv

It’s just about that time of year when current students begin to think about their courses for the next year. The thoughts vary from what should I take to what do I want to take. But, for some of the students the backdrop is what can I take to help me more employable. Yes, cue sighs from educators who do not want students to focus solely on employment, but perhaps on the love of learning.

One of the things that I’d like to remind most academic advisor is when you were an undergrad surely you heard from your friends and family–that’s a great program to study and eventually get a job. Alternatively, you might have been like me and fielded odd looks or even condescending comments that  said, “What are you going to do with that?” (I have my BA in Women’s Studies and a minor in Political Science). I do think that many have always looked at a university degree as something that can open the door to a career.

What has heightened this is that more students are also feeling this way that their college education is really meant to help them find a career. This is the reality of higher education today and I’m not going to argue against this point of view. But, I will say that as an undergraduate advisor I am going to try to help each student in my office to the best of my ability. Some students want the practical advice about getting work experience or making sure that each class gets them closer to their next goal. Then, there are other students who treat their education differently and are trying to find their niche or area of interest. And, yet another group of students are convinced that they will work for the UN or become lawyers. I offer these generalizations as examples of some of the student population and know that this is not an exhaustive list of the various student demographics.

These last two weeks and most likely next two months will mean more career counseling and helping students plan out their next school year. I will continue to ask, “What do you want to do.” This simple question helps, scares, and starts important conversations.